A turntable that connects wirelessly to Bluetooth speakers or a soundbar. For purists, that may sound anything but music to the ears. But with the AT-LPW50BT, Audio-Technica wants to prove that it is possible. And that with a turntable that aims higher than several hundred euros budget devices.
Audio-Technica is one of the largest producers of turntable cartridges, next to Ortofon. Many record player manufacturers use their products. But the Japanese brand also builds its turntables divided into a range for DJs and a range of players for the home. It is in the latter group that we find the belt-driven AT-LPW50BT. We should add right away that Audio-Technica doesn’t shoot as wide as rivals Pro-Ject, ELAC, ClearAudio, and others. At 499 euros, this top model from Audio-Technica is still very accessible; with other brands, it goes much further. For example, the Pro-Ject Debut Pro S of 800 euros or the ELAC Miracord 80of 2,499 euros that we recently discussed is targeting audiophiles who raise the bar even higher regarding vinyl.
Still, the AT-LPW50BT is anything but a budget model. We reserve that label for cheap players of 200-300 euros, devices that often make too many compromises. This Audio-Technica offers something more and an unusual mix of features. After all, you can send a record that you are playing wirelessly via Bluetooth to a speaker or audio device. You can even listen to your records on wireless headphones. That is an excellent option late at night or in a flat.
If you don’t have a problem with cables, you can also work with them. After all, Audio-Technica provides both a line-out and an unamplified phono output on this device. This makes the AT-LPW50BT an intriguing turntable for people who also like the option to upgrade later. Finally, the built-in phono amplifier makes this turntable usable as a vinyl solution for wireless speakers with auxiliary input, such as a Sonos Five.
|output||Phono out, line out, Bluetooth (SBC)|
|Cartridge||Audio-Technica AT-VM95E MM cartridge|
|Extras||Dust cover, Bluetooth streaming, aluminum turntable|
|Dimensions||2 × 34 × 12.6 cm|
Beautiful wood finish
You pay a little more than the budget segment for this Audio-Technica. But you do get something in return. The base of the AT-LPW50BT is not too thick, although it is somewhat more massive due to the use of MDF. And that’s a good thing because a solid plinth or base will usually remain more stable and vibration-free.
There is only one color version, a handsome rosewood with a dark red tint and a dark interplay of lines. The tonearm and the mechanism are again in matte silver. The base is kept very tight for the rest, except for a single dial that doubles as an on / off button to select the speed. This record player has a neat appearance with something luxurious and unique.
The AT-LPW50BT comes with an AT-VM95E cartridge mounted on an AT-HS4 headshell (the cartridge holder) that attaches to the tonearm via a twist connector. So if you feel like experimenting with cartridges, you can do so by quickly switching headshells. Several competitors, such as Pro-Ject, use a carbon tonearm with a headshell that you don’t just detach. That makes changing cartridges a bit more challenging.
Of course, trying out cartridges is not for everyone. You don’t have to; most vinyl enthusiasts are pleased with what they have. About the used AT-VM95E cartridge: it is often used on turntables in this price range. Separately it costs about 60 euros, about twelve percent of the total price of this turntable. That ratio is about ‘correct’, even if we look at what other manufacturers install. If you ever want to upgrade this turntable, replacing this cartridge with a more expensive model is a good idea. It can certainly be better. A little more accessible is just replacing the needle with another one from the VM95 family – but that won’t give you a significant improvement.
Everything is in the box
The Audio-Technica AT-LPW50BT comes as a complete package. This is not always true with more expensive turntables. That’s because demanding vinyl sometimes wants to combine its cartridge, player, and tonearm combination. You don’t have to worry about that here. Everything is in the box, including a dust cover. That is also something you must purchase separately from time to time.
However, ultimately does not mean ready-made. Only the cheapest record players are delivered ready to play – and you will notice that in the sound quality, they offer. Safely transporting a fully assembled turntable is very difficult. Even small shocks can disrupt everything or damage delicate parts. That is why manufacturers nowadays prefer to deliver turntables almost ready to play. Fifteen minutes of work is always needed before you can bring out your vinyl collection.
Quarter of work
That is also the case with this Audio-Technica. However, the steps are clearly explained in the manual. Placing the heavy aluminum turntable, screwing the headshell onto the tonearm (ensure you don’t touch the cables), and ensuring the turntable is level is not very challenging. So you shouldn’t fear a kind of IKEA experience, with countless bags of screws and an assembly manual with a dozen steps. It is positive that solid adjustable feet are provided, making it easy to install the table correctly. The belt is already on the inside of the turntable; you have to put it over the motor.
The last step between you and listening to your records is tuning the tonearm. As usual, you first put a counterweight on the back of the tonearm and tighten it until it floats. Then you must set the separate number ring to zero and turn the weight to ‘2’. This corresponds to the weight associated with the installed cartridge. When we did this and checked with a mini scale – only vinyl lovers and drug dealers buy such a thing – we were still half a gram under. That would affect the sound quality because the needle does not push into the grooves with enough force. Since such a digital scale can be purchased for less than 20 euros, we recommend investing in it. You also have manual ones for less than ten euros. Then you adjust the anti-skating weight.
Nice center and quite a bit of detail
A heavy rubber mat is supplied with the AT-LPW50BT. Vinyl enthusiasts can argue for a long time about mats, just like many other tweaks. But a mat can indeed have a surprising impact on the sound. Nevertheless, we will not discuss the pros and cons of what you can put on a turntable here. However, that rubber mat on the Audio-Technica caused a lot of dust to stick to the vinyl when the record was turned over. You have less of that with felt or cork.
We connected the Audio-Technica to the regular cinch input on a Primare I15 amplifier to test the built-in amplifier. It has a built-in phono amplifier, but we ignore that momentarily. We bring in ‘The Chopin Project’ by Ólafur Arnalds and Alice Sarah Ott and ‘A Light for Attracting Attention’ by Radiohead spin-off The Smile, two albums we bring up often and know well. What we hear is quite lovely, with that crazy distorted guitar line on ‘Thin Thing’ that stands out, and with Thom Yorke’s voice, it separates nicely from the whole. The emphasis is more on the center and detail, which we expect from the Japanese brand. As a result, the cello may lack somebody in ‘Verses’ on the Arnalds album, but there is a broader sense of detail. For example, the slow violins are presented very smoothly in this song. It’s certainly not a dark, dull sound.
With built-in phono amplifiers, you should always watch out for some hum. We don’t notice that with this record player, it seems competently integrated. Still, we want to hear what it gives if we switch off the built-in phono amplifier and connect the AT-LPW50BT to the phono input of the Primare amplifier. Again with The Smile, we hear a fuller, more dynamic sound. It’s a step forward with a little more balance. The conclusion is quickly made: if you own an amplifier with a dedicated input for a turntable, definitely get it. But the built-in phono amplifier is good enough if your audio device lacks such a phono input.
Much better than expected
And what about the Bluetooth connection? Going through the specifications of the AT-LPW50BT, we see that it only supports the SBC codec. A pity because the cheaper AT-LP3XBT does support, the better aptX codec. That fully automatic turntable places the needle on the record and then parks the tone arm again. That seems comfortable, but such a mechanism is rarely reliable with a cheaper record player. We should also note that SBC does not automatically deliver poor quality. It’s a more complex story, where everything depends on the bitrates that both source and receiver support. As a user, you can hardly ever find information about it. Let alone change something in the settings.
We start by pairing the Audio-Technica with a Bang & Olufsen Portal PC/PS for the Bluetooth part. Strictly speaking a gaming headset, but one that can quickly go through life as a laidback music player.
First challenge: pairing. Quite remarkable to connect two Bluetooth devices that do not have a screen or use an app. The only indicators you see are a blue LED on the turntable and one on the headphones. Still, pairing went relatively smoothly: just put both devices in pairing mode and then wait half a minute. Then when we play Daft Punk’s ‘Random Access Memories’, we are pleasantly surprised. The dreaded SBC artifacts are nowhere to be seen, and it sounds more ear-friendly than through the amplified cable output.
Giorgio’s explanation during the extended intro is quite atmospheric in ‘Giorgio by Moroder’, and the captivating guitar solo also comes in strong. The beats were allowed to dive deeper, but we’re not complaining: it still feels rousing and fast.
We connected the Audio-Technica record player via Bluetooth to a Denon AVR-X6300H AV receiver. We encountered a few more problems there. Although the distance between the turntable and the receiver was a maximum of three meters, with an uninterrupted line of sight, we still noted significant stutters. That was disappointing – but was it the record player or the receiver, which is older anyway and therefore has an old Bluetooth implementation on board? We suspect the latter because everything works fine if we dust off another Bluetooth solution and place it at a similar distance. We hang the used iFi Audio Zen Blue receiver with a long cinch cable – it is a test setup, not an actual setup – back to the Primare amplifier. What we hear reinforces the impression we got with the Bluetooth headset: Bluetooth mode sounds fine.
The Audio-Technica AT-LPW50BT is a better turntable with a suitable Bluetooth mode. Do you want to give a turntable a nice place on a sideboard without surrounding it with cables and audio equipment? Then you can play records with this device in more than decent quality and send them wirelessly to a Bluetooth device. That can be a soundbar near the TV, wireless speakers, or an amplifier in another corner of the room. You can also use the AT-LPW50BT with a cable more traditionally. In that mode, it offers good, if not exceptional, performance. But you may have to look for them in the price category a few hundred euros higher.
- Bluetooth mode is not a gimmick; sounds good.
- Cushioned feet
- Luxuriously finished, elegant appearance
- Rich in detail and reasonable soundstage
- No giant bass because this cartridge
- Rubber mat
- The amplified output is slightly weaker